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A New Kind of Art: Turner Prize 2018

17 October 2018 Isobelle Smith

The Turner Prize exhibit has caused quite a stir this year, with four artists being shortlisted solely for installations, contrary to the traditional selections of painting and sculpture that past exhibitions have seen.

Now in its 34th year, the prize recognizes the work of a British artist for an outstanding exhibition or presentation. Each of this year's installations, currently housed at the Tate Britain, tackle pressing contemporary issues such as gender identity, cultural translation and our perception of warfare, in new and exciting ways.
 
Four different rooms hold the work of artists Naeem Mohaiemen, Charlotte Prodger and Luke Willis Thompson and collective Forensic Architecture. Each room stems from a bright central space filled with comfy sofas and books relevant to the themes dealt with in each piece, where you are invited to sit down, deliberate upon and discuss what you see; the exhibit as a whole is presented as a space of artistic exploration. The four rooms that surround the central space are darker, and vary in size and shape, meaning visitors must sit, stand or crowd together depending on the nature of the piece inside. You must, too, deal with drastically different concepts: from local to global, personal to public, growth to destruction.

From Naeem Mohaiemen’s Tripoli Cancelled 2017 (still).Mohaiemen’s work is made up of two pieces, named Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017) and Tripoli Cancelled (2017). The duration of the installations is particularly unusual, with a combined running time of over three hours, leaving you dazed upon exit. Tripoli Cancelled depicts a stranded passenger in an abandoned airport, evoking moments of intense emotion; Two Meetings draws from stock footage, interviews and commentaries to create a depiction of the Non-Aligned movement, an alliance of third world countries from the 1960s and 70s. Mohaiemen uses varied images of both family and public histories in order to explore how left wing politics has been shaped and influenced over the last eighty years, and explores the rewriting of political memories, especially the revision of the past as utopia. His declared hope is for an as-yet unborn international left, united by its politics rather than race and religion, and this piece certainly highlights the problematic history we must overcome in order to achieve it. 

In the second darkened room, having taken a breather in the central area, you will find a submission from Forensic Architecture, a group of architects, lawyers, scientists and filmmakers who analyze built environments in war torn areas in order to better understand conflict that has occurred. It's brilliant to have a piece from a collective who bring a different perspective to an exhibition usually dominated by those with their heads firmly placed in the art world. The group's piece is entitled The Long Duration of the Split Second, and intersperses live action with graphics. The use of sudden graphics simultaneously informs the viewer, but also disrupts the footage of conflict we are provided, leading the viewer to understand the problematic relationship Forensic Architecture have with the environments they must engage with. Moreover, the small cramped room in which it is screened, combined with the unsettling content of the piece, forces us to consider our relationship with visual representations of war and how human rights violations are explored.

From Luke Willis Thompson, Autoportrait 2017 (still).Luke Willis Thompson, one of the more controversial inclusions in the exhibition, draws on the photographic techniques of Andy Warhol to provide a fascinating installation of portraits which tread the line between flm and installation. His first work, Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries (2016), deals with the traumatic histories of class, racial and social inequality. He uses silent  mooving portraits of those who have known police brutality, including Diamond Reynolds who famously livestreamed the aftermath of her boyfriend being shot by police in 2016. Closer to home, we observe an almost-static portrait of Brandon, the grandson of Dorothy “Cherry” Groce, who was shot by police in Brixton in 1985. The portraits are exquisitely beautiful, and quietly chilling. The second piece, Autoportrait (2017), is a careful documentation of small sculpture made out of human skin, surreal and familiar all at once.

Figure 4: Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT, 2016 (still).Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGET (2016) occupies the final room. Her installation, shot solely on an iPhone, is a hypnotic exploration of selfhood and queer identity. The piece matches shots of vast Scottish landscape with intensely intimate depictions of her day to day life, exploring the relationship between the human and the technological. Prodger simultaneously evokes isolation and unity, and establishes what it means to stand alone.
 
This collection of films not only pushes the boundaries of installation, but also draws extremely prevalent contemporary issues of gender, class and politics. Although the exhibit is considerably long in duration, an afternoon spent with the Turner Prize pieces promises to be as engaging as it is enlightening.
 
Turner Prize 2018 is at Tate Britain until 6 January 2019. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony on 4 December 2018.

Images from top to bottom:
1: From Naeem Mohaiemen’s Tripoli Cancelled 2017 (still).
2: Forensic Architecture, 2018. Killing in Umm al-Hiran, 18 January 2017 (still).
3: From Luke Willis Thompson, Autoportrait 2017 (still).
4: Charlotte Prodger’s BRIDGIT, 2016 (still).

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